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Tourism & Conservation Efforts in the Galapagos Islands & at Machu Picchu

Tourism has gradually but steadily increased in Peru and the Galapagos during most of the second half of the 20th century, but then started growing more rapidly in the late 90s and first decade of the 21st century. Growth in tourism is double edged, because tourism has been a driving force to spur and fund many successful conservation efforts in Peru and in the Galapagos Islands, but at the same time tourism pressure has created new problems or has exacerbated existing ones.

There are severe concerns for conserving the diversity and ecology of the Galapagos, and we strive to be part of the solution in the Galapagos (sustainable, low impact, limited tourism) rather than part of the problem (rampant, uncontrolled mass tourism). We support limiting tourism (including a cap on the absolute number of tourists allowed into the Galapagos), and we work with and donate to conservation organizations actively involved in these areas, including the Galapagos Conservancy, the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), Conservation International, and the Nature Conservancy. We encourage you to donate to conservation organizations active in these areas. Travelers who have learned about these environmental issues through their travels have become an important source of funds for these critical conservation organizations. In our Booking Form, we provide travelers with the opportunity to donate to conservation efforts in the Galapagos.

We also work only with the most reputable local outfitters and suppliers in these destinations, most of whom are also very actively involved in local conservation efforts. We promote only vessel based tours on our website, focusing on smaller boats. We do not promote land based tours, which are the biggest tourism threat that the Galapagos faces, because those types of tours require hotels, restaurants, offices, and other infrastructure, and because they often operate in an unregulated manner. The explosive growth in the local population in the Galapagos over the last decade is largely the result of the growth of land based tourism. It is the kind of thing that is hard to stop once it gets going, and there are already “pro-growth” politicians serving in elected office in the Galapagos. This can’t be good for the biodiversity or environmental future of the islands. Everyone working in conservation in the islands recognizes that the more people that come, the more introduced species we have and the more damage gets done to this fragile ecosystem. There are regulations and immigration restrictions on the local population, but there are many loopholes and a lot of illegal immigration continues simply because the economic situation is so much better in the Galapagos than it is in most of the mainland. We recognize and understand that there are conflicting interests in the Galapagos, but hopefully at some point the authorities will recognize the need to put an absolute cap on the total number of visitors to the Galapagos. That is the only thing that can really halt the growth in land based tourism and, consequently, the growth in the local population.

There are many success stories in Galapagos conservation and all visitors must be accompanied by certified guides, who are responsible for preventing any harmful interaction with the wildlife, including touching or feeding the animals. The ocean area surrounding the Galapagos was made into a Marine Reserve with protected status, which has considerably reduced poaching and illegal commercial fishing. Successful eradication programs of feral goats and other destructive introduced species has also taken place. However, there is a lot of unregulated, illegal tourism taking place, including unlicensed site visits by day trippers from the growing cities in the Galapagos, and illegal hotel development.

Organizations such as the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos Conservancy exist to promote environmental protection and improve the relationship between Islanders and the travel industry, helping them to work together to safeguard the island’s natural heritage. The International Galapagos Tour Operators Association is a trade organization of mostly U.S. based companies that collaborate to try and ensure that sustainable tourism is practiced in the Galapagos. Vaya Adventures has been active in conservation efforts in the Galapagos and its founder has served on the Board of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA).

Both the ruins of Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail have faced similar dilemmas as the volume of visitors has increased each year, creating serious concerns over erosion of the Inca stonework and environmental degradation of the area. The surge in visitor numbers and talk of a cable car direct to the entrance gates and a luxury hotel within the site itself compelled UNESCO to issue a warning that the site was at risk of losing its World Heritage status, a warning that was eventually heeded by the authorities who introduced stricter entrance and conservation regulations and now limit the number of tourists who can hike the Inca Trail or visit Machu Picchu. If environmentalists and people interested in conservation make enough noise, the authorities listen and there are successful limits on development and tourism!

Contact one of our travel specialists for more details on how to reduce the environmental impact of a tour to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands and how you can contribute to conservation efforts. We give all of our travelers the opportunity to contribute to local conservation and community efforts in our Booking Forms.

Please see our full list of Machu Picchu and Galapagos Tour Packages here.